Paying more to guarantee ad viewability is a 'massive challenge' for brands

Marketers reveal the challenges they are facing with ad viewability
Marketers reveal the challenges they are facing with ad viewability

It is still early days for the measurement of online ads' viewability, but industry bodies and brand marketers are starting to work toward improving the metrics.

56% of all online display ads are not seen by consumers

Marketers are putting pressure on publishers and media agencies to ensure their online ads are 100% viewable, shocked by the recent discovery that a significant proportion of their display budget is wasted on ads that are never seen. According to a Google report published in December, 56% of all online display ads are not seen by consumers. Although some took it with a pinch of salt, the report has been a wake-up call for brands.

A fighting chance

This concept of placing an ad so that it has a chance of being seen is referred to as viewability. To qualify as a viewable display impression, 50% of an ad must be in the visible portion of an internet browser for at least one second, according to guidance from the IAB. For video ads, it’s two seconds. Viewability doesn’t guarantee that an ad will be seen, but gives it a fighting chance.

This metric is so new that the IAB has only just lifted its advice against trading on viewability. This means that no one has yet agreed how to measure it in a consistent way, or whether advertisers should be forking out more for viewable ads.

Lack of consensus

This lack of consensus could put the growth of digital ads at risk, if marketers, dissatisfied with transparency relating to viewability, were to opt to move their money elsewhere.

Given how much we paid, for our ads not to be viewed was a massive issue.

O2 innovation and capability lead Dan Michelson told Marketing: "For a brand of O2’s size, even a small percentage of ads not being seen is a large amount of spend.

"Our concern was, given the amount of money we were paying [for] high-impact ad units, for them not to be viewed was a massive issue when it came down to our brand campaigns."

Massive challenge

Michelson voiced a complaint common among marketers – that they shouldn’t be paying publishers if an ad is not viewable.

He said: "The thought of a marketer paying money is that your ad [should always be]100% in view. It’s a massive challenge when you have to pay extra to guarantee that."

Shell and Unilever have gone a step further in the US, rewriting the definition of viewability. Shell says an ad must be seen for five seconds, rather than the industry standard of one. Meanwhile, for Unilever, an ad must be 100% in view to count as viewable, rather than just 50%. For video, the ad needs to be 100% in view and 50% played.

Speaking at an IAB conference in March, Shell’s global media manager, Americo Campos Silva, said: "What we see from the IAB is that the ad has to be seen for a second, but clearly this is not good enough – at least, for us."

Huge pressure on publishers

Steve Chester, director of data and industry programmes at IAB UK, described the current standard as a "baseline", and added that these kinds of demands from brands would place huge pressure on publishers.

For example, a publisher may be able to deliver a desirable audience to an advertiser, but still lose out financially because the ad’s creative doesn’t appeal, meaning that users scroll down before meeting the viewability threshold. Neither publisher nor media agency is responsible for patchy creative, but they may still lose out as a result of it.

Michelson acknowledged this problem and said brands needed to think more carefully about their creative.

Brands need to take on board that consumers only spend a fraction of time on certain pages. We need to design our creative to be smarter

He added: "Brands need to take on board that consumers only spend a fraction of time on certain pages. We need to design our creative to be smarter."

While there are currently only two ways to measure viewability – how many pixels of an ad are in view and for how long – there is a lack of consistency in the way these results are interpreted.

Ad fraud and brand safety

For example, some vendors yoke their viewability measurements to other factors such as ad fraud and brand safety, weeding out impressions from bots. A vendor who does not measure these factors will record different results.

"Even when you start the clock, measuring viewability can differ," said Chester. "These may be marginal differences, but any delay between the buyer’s and seller’s measurement will result in a difference. When you are doing that millions of times, it’s a challenge."

Sammy Austin, head of programmatic at, said consistent measurements would result in greater transparency, while better brand education could also solve the thorny issue of 100% viewability.

100% viewability is unrealistic

She said: "[The idea of achieving 100% viewability] is unrealistic – there is not enough [inventory of this type] out there for advertisers to warrant getting viewable-only placements. But that ongoing pressure from advertisers will mean publishers will have to start providing better inventory, leading to better standards across the industry."

Nick Reid, UK managing director of video ad firm TubeMogul, argued that brands needed to understand the viewability "trade-offs".

He added: "This is why transparency is key – it’s about knowing the site you’re running on, as well as having transparency on viewability. And if a user moves away from the content, there’s nothing you can do about that."


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